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Patent Office pilot programs slowly ease backlog (UPDATE)

By Douglas J. Levy
Dolan Newswires

Over the past two years, patent attorneys have seen marked differences in the way patent applications are handled, and how a backlog of 700,000-plus filed patent applications are being tackled, by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

A series of USPTO pilot programs have, among other things, offered environmental-based technology opportunity to move closer to the front of the examination line; given the public a chance to weigh in on some examinations; and allowed applicants who file in one country to use the same examination results when filing in another country.

But Troy, Mich.-attorney Kevin MacKenzie said that these efforts, while noble, aren’t enough.

“It’s going to take a while to get through this backlog because of the sheer size,” said MacKenzie, of Gifford, Krass, Sprinkle, Anderson & Citkowski, P.C. “There are certain areas where you’re going to wait five, six, seven years to get your examination, and by then, your technology might not even be relevant.”

The real solution, according to attorney Charles Bieneman, is hiring more examiners.

“There’s no escaping the fact that a lot of examiners need to do a lot of work to chip away at the pending applications,” said Bieneman, of Rader, Fishman & Grauer PLLC in Bloomfield Hills.

That probably won’t be happening anytime soon.

On April 21, David Kappos, director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, announced that, as part of federal budget cuts, existing patent examiners won’t be paid overtime, and that there would be a hiring freeze.

“In view of the funding cuts reflected in the final budget and affecting the U.S. government as a whole,” he said in a memo to USPTO employees, “we will be unable to expend the additional $85-100 million in fees that we will be collecting during this fiscal year — funds that we had anticipated being able to use to fund operations this year.”

In addition, the first USPTO satellite office, which was scheduled to open in Detroit in August and would have had 100 examiners, was tabled.

An email attributed to USPTO spokesman Paul Fucito said: “There are many reasons for the backlog.

Lacking the authority from Congress to spend all the money we collect, however, does have an impact on the number of examiners we can hire, make essential IT upgrades, etc.”

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